Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category
What is wisdom?
On May 11th, Patrice Ayme published an essay entitled Science: Progressing Wisdom. I found it deeply engaging. At the same time, I was frustrated because there was a part of me that wanted to know more about “Patrice”.
For some time, I had known that Patrice Ayme was a nom-de-plume and that his, or her, identity was carefully protected. Still that part of me that wanted to relate to the real person, for want of a better description, still wouldn’t quieten down. I offered the following comment:
Patrice, you have demonstrated an amazing breadth of knowledge across your many essays. However, I did wonder if you would be happy to declare your educational experience? As in your specialisation at a degree or Doctorate level (I suspect you do hold a PhD!)? Best wishes, Paul
Patrice’s reply, which you are encouraged to read in full, opened, thus:
You are so funny, Paul! You have an Obsession-Compulsion about “qualifications”.
One of my main ideas, idea #956, is that the authority principle is severely abused. People with Philosophiae Doctor have nothing sacred about them. Goebbels had one (in humanities).
Do you think Goebbels’ authority in humanities is to be “declared”? There were even not just PhDs, but Nobel Laureates, who became Nazis, BEFORE Hitler (who had been sent to spy on them).
No doubt Hitler, a simple caporal, and gifted painter (he lived off it), was super-impressed when he met some of the most educated people in the world, and they were Nazis… Full of PhDs.
One should not confuse the message’s content and her bearer.
This site is about learning to think better. That’s why I go back to the basics.
The idea that, say, those with PhDs is Idionomics, are the only ones qualified to speak about idiocy, is, well, idiotic.
Another reader of Patrice’s essay, gmax, said this, in part:
You have to learn to judge knowledge, not just follow oligarchs like a bleating sheep to learn what’s true and what is not.
That really made me sit up and think! For the first time in my life (I’m 70 later this year), I realised that my own ragged educational experience, as offered yesterday, had left in its wake a personal insecurity over my education, and a consequential weakness in evaluating knowledge with me somehow needing to know the identity of anonymous authors. When Patrice wrote, “Please do not hesitate to make it a post, Paul! I was thinking of it myself, but, as it is, right now, I don’t seem to have the time.“, I couldn’t resist.
Here is my essay.
Wisdom, knowledge and authority.
Abstract: Wisdom requires clarity of knowledge; no more and no less.
On Tuesday evening, Jean and I rented a movie. We watched the film American Hustle.
The film has received rave reviews (here’s a typical one in the Guardian newspaper) and was fun to watch; albeit somewhat confusing for much of the first half. At one point towards the end, the hero of the film, Irving Rosenfeld, reflects that, “People see and hear what they want to believe!“.
That is the challenge about accruing wisdom. How to be analytical and wise in learning new thinking and new ideas. In other words, in acquiring knowledge!
If the subject is simple (well on the surface!) as, for example, the effect of the Earth’s gravitational field then that’s fine and dandy. It’s easy to become wise to the fact that falling off a tall building is likely to kill you.
But take an extremely complex, and highly current matter, that of Planet Earth’s changing climate, and it is extremely difficult for the average person without a scientific background to determine the truth. Really, when I use the phrase “to determine the truth” in the context of this essay I should have written ‘to gain knowledge‘.
To illustrate that, my good Californian friend of more than 35 years, Dan Gomez, is highly sceptical about climate change as a product of man’s activities. Recently, I sent him an email with a link to the NBC News report: American Doomsday: White House Warns of Climate Catastrophes. This was Dan’s email reply:
Think about it, Paul.
1. Consider the source and the timing of these new headlines i.e. the left-thinking Obama regime and current unfavorable political challenges.
2. A deflection from mainline issues confronting us today i.e., jobs, economy, healthcare, upcoming elections, Benghazi and IRS political issues.
3. Major opportunity to raise taxes unilaterally without Congress involved.
4. Major opportunity to redistribute corporate wealth from private sector to public sector.
5. Refocus of competitive, free-market energy sector to controlled renewables managed by a few very wealthy political contributors. A lot of money at stake.
6. Man, is empowered via a political party to “save the world” by changing the Weather. The only problem is, there is no solution, no global will and no participants to make anything significant happen i.e., China, Southeast Asia and another billion people scattered about.
7. Euro Zone and USA have already cut CO2 emissions by over 30% each to no avail. In fact, they say it is getting worse after hundreds of billions of dollars already diverted from private sector to public sector with no results. They are now asking for trillions.
8. Average person is not willing to give up his car, nor spend more for battery power (peel back the onion on the battery manufacturing and recycling industry vis a vis CO2 contributions). Much fewer cars, trains, tractors, jets, etc. to make anything work. Sacrifice begins at home.
9. Cows vent 20 times the CO2 emissions in the form of methane than man-made artifacts. Just saying….
10. Check out the bacteria challenge facing Man. This will help put priorities in order for you.
As always, follow the money and you’ll get your answers…..
I am unable to respond to Dan in an analytical and precise manner. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to so do. Having an emotional response is fine – but it does not advance my personal wisdom.
On the 6th May, I posted an item that featured a TED Talk by scientist Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist no less. His view is that, “You can’t understand climate change in pieces. It’s the whole, or it’s nothing.” The TED Talk explains how the big picture of climate change illustrates the endlessly complex interactions of small-scale environmental events.
Just a few days ago, Jean and I had the pleasure of a couple of hours at the home of Leon Hunsaker, renowned meteorologist who has claimed that the 1862 Californian flood could happen again.
Leon lives less than 5 minutes from us here in Southern Oregon. I asked him what he thought of climate change and he said that the planet’s atmosphere was like a large chocolate cake and man’s activities were no more than the icing on the cake.
So there you are: a range of opinions about this particular, potentially very important, subject. Although in my own (emotional) mind the weight of evidence is in favour of the argument that man is having a deepening and worsening effect on our planet.
Take, for example, the report issued yesterday about significant melting of Antarctica’s glaciers now unstoppable. (Patrice has just released an informative post on the subject!)
“People see and hear what they want to believe!” comes immediately back to mind. Dan wants to believe that the planet is going through normal cycles of change. I want to believe that mankind can make a difference; for the sake of my children and grandson.
Let me turn to the subject of anonymous authors, my Obsession-Compulsion about qualifications!
I have admitted the flaw in my thinking. Here’s the rationale for my change of opinion.
Just two days ago, Tom Engelhardt published his latest TomDispatch, a guest essay by Glenn Greenwald coinciding with the publication of Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Security State. In that essay, Glenn Greenwald says:
On December 1, 2012, I received my first communication from Edward Snowden, although I had no idea at the time that it was from him.
The contact came in the form of an email from someone calling himself Cincinnatus, a reference to Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who, in the fifth century BC, was appointed dictator of Rome to defend the city against attack. He is most remembered for what he did after vanquishing Rome’s enemies: he immediately and voluntarily gave up political power and returned to farming life. Hailed as a “model of civic virtue,” Cincinnatus has become a symbol of the use of political power in the public interest and the worth of limiting or even relinquishing individual power for the greater good.
The world now knows what Glenn Greenwald (and Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker) knew long before. That Snowden’s anonymity was critically important in the run-up to his knowledge being made widely known.
I was convinced. What is important is not the name and identity of the author of knowledge. What is important is the knowledge itself. No one would deny Snowden’s right to privacy. Indeed, millions of us would opt for email privacy if we fully realised the ease and extent with which our emails, indeed our communications in general, can be intercepted.
Many know that Patrice is a frequent, outspoken voice about the dangers of plutocracy and the slip-sliding away of democracy in the United States. His, or her, personal safety is the highest need of all. Patrice has a perfect right to privacy.
Which leads on to the final, obvious question. If we do not know the identity of the author of knowledge then how can we be certain that the knowledge is valid?
Answer: Through testing!
In the best traditions of research, especially scientific research, testing the validity of a claim is the only certain way of determining the validity of knowledge; of being able to derive wisdom from that knowledge.
Let me give you a clear example.
Commercial aviation is incredibly safe. Many countries operate an equivalent to the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch. That UK AAIB website proclaims:
The purpose of the AAIB is:
To improve aviation safety by determining the causes of air accidents and serious incidents and making safety recommendations intended to prevent recurrence
…It is not to apportion blame or liability.
Keith Conradi, Chief Inspector
Critical to that purpose of improving safety (aka improving knowledge) is looking for trends. Any trends or patterns would be impossible to discover without testing and debate.
Thus what makes aviation safer is no different to what makes all of knowledge reliable: the testing of ideas and of the hypotheses behind those ideas. The identity of the author of those ideas, per se, is irrelevant.
Thus it is clear to me, clear now beyond doubt, that wisdom is the application of knowledge disconnected from the person who is the author of that knowledge. One might see it as a marriage of knowledge and intellect. Nothing more and nothing less!
All aspects of wisdom depend on trust, on the confidence that the knowledge is ‘reliable‘. Reliability gained from debate and testing.
Never forgetting that in the final analysis, as Patrice wrote it:
“Nature is the only authority worth respecting always.”
In every which way that one can imagine, we have to return to the principles of fairness and balance so beautifully demonstrated to man by the breadth of Nature. We have to embrace Nature’s wisdom.
In other words, we have to learn from dogs!
The power of re-finding oneself.
If you do a search on Learning from Dogs for Terry Hershey you will find that his name comes up from time to time. Way back in March, 2011, I published a post announcing a visit by Terry to Payson, AZ where Jean and I were then living. Having had the opportunity to listen to Terry speaking and to meet him in person, I have maintained a subscription to his weekly Sabbath Moment ever since.
Thus it was that last Sunday in came the regular missive from Terry. They are always good but last Sunday’s was spectacularly good. In response to my request to publish the full Sabbath Moment here on Learning from Dogs, there was a prompt reply to the affirmative.
Thus with no further ado, here is Terry’s Sabbath Moment for May 5th, 2014, in full.
May 5, 2014
It seems that in the spiritual world, we do not really find something until we first lose it, ignore it, miss it, long for it, choose, it, and personally find it again–but now on a new level. Richard Rohr
Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise. Julia Cameron
I was born fragile, farther said. I was just born that way. He said I was a nervous baby. Just born like that. David Helfgott
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Michelangelo
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson began her career as an accomplished viola player. While on tour in Europe (in the late 1980s), her viola was stolen. She could have replaced it. As would be imagined, the theft threw her into a state of feeling lost and uncertain. She stopped playing. After awhile, Lorraine began to work with only instrument she had, her voice.
When asked, Lorraine stresses that her decision to go into singing happened quite naturally. “There were a lot of encouragements along the way, but no individual, earth-shaking event that made me change,” she says. “But, back in 1988, when my viola was stolen, I took that as a sort of omen.” (And although she hasn’t yet replaced her stolen viola, she avows that “the viola is always with me in spirit when I sing.”)
Interestingly, Lorraine is shy about being interviewed; she has no press agent. But when she sings she is known for an ever-widening swath of ardor and awe that she leaves in her wake. An intensity. Her voice–her singing–touches hearts and lives. The irony is that the gift–the artistry–she has given us all, began when life turned left.
Ask any class of kindergarten students, “How many of you are artists?“
How many raise their hands? Every single one of them.
Ask fourth graders. Maybe half.
Seventh graders. A handful.
Seniors in high school. Maybe one.
It’s quite the educational system we have created.
We begin with artists, and we slowly wean it out of them.
I do know this: it is easy to lose sight of that artist that resides inside of each one of us. Whether lost or buried or stuck or forgotten or dismissed or ignored… or “stolen.” (Whenever I lead a retreat, Crayolas are mandatory–because it is an unwritten spiritual principle that you cannot learn about life unless you color. It is curious then, how many–otherwise secure adults–will say, “I’m not very good at coloring.” I will say, “Who said anything about being ‘good’ at it?” Our mind has already morphed from play and wonder to mastery and proficiency.)
When we tag or label or describe ourselves, “artist” is seldom used. Where I was raised, artist was a phase you went through (a dream), you know, to grow out of, to, move on to something more useful and sensible–in order to get a real job.
Yes, of course we are all inner artists, but the cynical part of me tells me that it all sounds too much like a mantra meant to be chanted standing in a circle at a “be all you can be” conference. Sure, it all sounds good.
But I’m not sure what it really means.
In the opening scenes of Shine, we first meet the middle-aged David Helfgott (played by acclaimed Australian stage actor Geoffrey Rush), babbling to himself incessantly and wandering in the rain, in a state of transition. Behind him is the isolated existence as a child piano prodigy whose emotional turmoil led to a nervous breakdown, and a series of stays in various mental institutions. Ahead of him is his eventual reconnection with the world around him, guided by both love and his virtuoso talent that has been long abandoned. We witness the awakening of the artist. In the movie (and in real life), David eventually moves toward that which gives life.
So, what is this artist? It is the place in our spirit that births…
There is no doubt that we hide it. We don’t believe it. Or we judge it as inadequate.
But here’s the deal: The artist in David did not reside only in the talent or prodigy or genius, but in the spontaneity, vitality, innocence, passion and delight. And the artist in Lorraine wasn’t detoured by life’s unkindness.
For me, the tragedy is that (in the name of love) David’s father (Peter) squeezes the artist out of the prodigy. But in truth, it doesn’t always require a pathological “love” to hide or extinguish the light.
In the movie rendition, there is a scene that stops my heart. David and his father are walking home after a competition. David has placed second.
(In his father’s eyes, anything other that first is a failure.) The father is seething, and there is no hiding his disgust. David has lived his entire life absorbing his father’s pathology, doing his very best to make his Daddy happy. The father walks ahead, hurried, his spirit heavy. David follows. On the sidewalk, in chalk, there is a hopscotch pattern.The camera follows from behind, and we see young David unconsciously, intuitively, childlike, hopping and skipping and jumping — the joy and the light (and the artistry) of his childhood still alive.
I don’t want to lose sight of that childlike artistry inside of me. I’m home for a week or so, and the garden is abounding and teeming with life and color and enchantment. The peony buds profligate, the bearded iris blooms beguiling, the columbine exquisite. The branches of the Japanese Maple, heavy with spring rain, deferentially bow. I once asked my analyst why I was in therapy. He told me it would make me a better gardener. Gardening can be strong medicine–an elixir that nurtures and shapes the soul. For that reason, it is a tonic seldom taken straight with no ice. Gardening has way of seeping into your soul, and one day you find yourself, in the words of poet May Sarton, spending the first half hour of the morning “enjoying the air and watching for miracles,” the joy and the light still alive.
I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I’m not afraid of falling
into my inkpot. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hope you all enjoyed this just as much as I did!
But I can’t close without mentioning something that struck me the very first time I read the essay. It is this.
That list that describes artistry: creativity, enchantment, imagination, play, risk and wonder. It’s not a million miles from describing the way our younger dogs behave when we take them for a walk around the property most days after lunch.
Dogs playing without a care in the world!
Once again, Terry’s website is here.
Nature imposes herself on us humans in absolute terms.
I do not believe in any form of life after death. Jean is uncertain. Many good people do believe in some form of spiritual afterlife.
However, one thing is sure. Our living mind and body will die.
These few words are an introduction to the first essay under the broad title of The Natural order. On the 23rd April I introduced the idea of writing a regular essay “about the past, present and future of man’s relationship with Nature.“
Thus it did seem entirely appropriate to ‘kick off’ the essays with reflections about life and death.
The circle of life and death
Posted on April 27, 2014 |
Nature reminds me life and death is a circle.
I visit a house, the noise of hungry little birds emanating from a nest hidden in the roof, busy parents flying in and out feeding their brood. Less than a week before summer (1st May) I encounter life all about me, like a vast fountain of creativity, as plant and animal erupt into growth and creation. I feel a sense of joy at the life all about me, like dipping my feet in crystal clear spring waters.
Amongst this carnival of life a reminder that with life there is also death. Helix our cat is an effective hunter, a blue tit is found dead upon the ground. I feel no sadness for the death, it is a natural part of the cycle of nature, my animistic viewpoint is of a small spirit returning to the source, and from then renewing. No anger for Helix, since this is the nature of cats, despite being fed, a cat must follow the primal instinct of its nature to hunt. I carry the dead blue tit to an overgrown spot of trees and grass, here I place the blue tit to decay and thus become part of the life of plant and animal of that place, such is the circle of life and death.
There can’t be a single person on this planet who does not understand that our human life is finite.
Life span of early man: Until fairly recently, little information existed about how long prehistoric people lived. Too few fossilized human remains made it tough for historians to estimate the demographics of any population. Anthropology professors Rachel Caspari and Sang-Hee Lee chose instead to analyze the relative ages of skeletons found in archeological digs in eastern and southern Africa, Europe, and elsewhere. Comparing the proportion of those who died young, with those who died at an older age, the team concluded that longevity only began to significantly increase (that is, past the age of 30 or so) about 30,000 years ago – quite late in the span of human evolution.
In an article published in 2011 in Scientific American, Caspari calls the shift the “evolution of grandparents”, as it marks the first time in human history that three generations might have co-existed. ( Source: Longevity Throughout History.)
Thus given that living much past the age of thirty years is a relatively recent experience, it baffles me beyond comprehension that we, as in mankind, have become so short-sighted about reinvesting in the one and only natural planet that sustains us.
Beautifully expressed in another wonderful essay from John Hurlburt.
Notes on the Human Dilemma
The metanexus of Faith, Nature and Science form an integral vision of the reality in which we exist. We are components of Creation living in an emerging universe. As consciously aware life forms we are each and all responsible to the Nature of God in a steadily emerging universe. Change is both constant and inevitable. Species that don’t adapt, do not survive.
Our human problems are obvious.
The essential growth of human conscious awareness remains questionable.
There is a blatant disregard for Nature. The rate of Natural disasters is increasing everywhere on Earth
Civil unrest is bordering on a second Civil War and is already in that state in many other nations of the world.
Imminent economic collapse remains probable as long our world economy is based on a foundation that has been leveraged at least twenty-five times above any realistic material foundation on Earth.
Are we a moral species?
A steady increase in natural disasters worldwide is inevitable until we change in response to Nature’s warnings or become extinct. The collapse of morality threatens the existence of global civilization.
The virtual extinction of the human race in its present state is all but assured within the next century unless we adapt to the Reality we presently blithely ignore or chose to vilify.
We still have a choice.
Our alternative to what has been euphemistically referred to as “new reality” is the process of education, reformation and transformation on a personal level. The objectives are an obvious need to adapt to constant natural change and create a species renaissance in harmony with the reality of God, Nature and Science.
There is clearly a need for a global economy that is based on our primal need for clean air, clean water, clean food and clean energy. We need to maintain our balance through gratitude for the blessings of the life we share and equal justice for all. We need to remember that we are not in charge of anything except our responsibilities to God, Nature and each other.
Under these simple guidelines, a healthy, growing future remains possible as we prepare to migrate from our home planet and relieve the consumptive consequences of an exponentially growing and ravenous demographic ruled by the artificial symbol of Money.
Sound impossible? Au contraire…
The world is being forced to re-evaluate its economic premises. Here are a few proven solutions to help create a naturally invigorated economy.
We can cut air pollution dramatically overnight by converting commercial diesel engines to far more cost-effective bio-fuels without a single change to the diesel mechanisms.
Bio-diesel distillation plants can filter and recycle the clean water we need to live.
We are capable of growing our own food with recycled organic fertilizers.
We have begun the process of harnessing the limitless clean renewable energy provided by the sun, the wind and hydraulic power.
Electric cars that may be fueled by solar energy are winning world class races.
The list of what we are capable of doing is only limited by our imaginations.
The questions to ask ourselves are:
Are we at the beginning of a new world or at the end of an old world?
“Are we a part of the problem or part of a realistic solution?”
“What will be the harvest of our lives?”
an old lamplighter
Back to the basics of life.
Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will recall that just under a week ago I published an essay under the title of A bedtime story for mankind. The post centred around an essay from Patrice Ayme. Patrice’s essay could be summarised as follows: “At the present rate of greenhouse gases emissions, within nine years, massively lethal climate and oceanic changes are guaranteed.“
Then just last Sunday, Patrice published a second essay reinforcing that first one. The subsequent essay was called Ten Years to Catastrophe. I was minded to republish that but upon reflection thought that there was a better option. That was to explore the deep, core questions that both of Patrice’s essays raised in my mind and, presumably, must be raised in the minds of countless thousands of others. Questions along the lines of a comment I submitted to that subsequent post from Patrice.
Do you have an idea, even a sense, of when global leaders, elected Governments, the ‘movers and shakers’ in societies, will truly embrace the global catastrophe that is heading our way?
And a supplementary question: What would be the indicators that Governments were acknowledging the task ahead?
Frankly, they weren’t especially good questions but they were an attempt by me to open up a debate on whether or not this is the “beginning of the end” of life for us humans. Central to what was going through my mind was the core question of how did it all go wrong?
On Monday evening, I rang John Hurlburt, a close friend of Jean and me from our Payson, Arizona days and kicked around those questions . It was a most enlightening conversation. John is an active founder member of Transition Town Payson and Payson recently welcomed the Great March for Climate Action in their walk from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. (An essay on that event coming soon.)
Anyway, from out of that conversation with John came the idea of a series of essays here on Learning from Dogs about the past, present and future of man’s relationship with Nature. The aim is to offer an essay on a weekly basis but we’ll see how it goes. Wherever possible, I will use the essays and posts from other bloggers that reinforce the vision. As always, your feedback in the form of ‘Likes’ or comments will reflect on the value of the essays to you.
After John and I finished the call, he sent me an email with what could be best described as his vision for these essays. Here is that email [my emphasis].
Everything fits together. Otherwise, we’d simply be disassociated atoms.
Human beings are a consciously aware component of Nature. We have a DNA-level directive to survive as a species and as individual members of a species …. in that order!
We are consciously aware components of the conscious interaction between energy and matter in a predominently smoothly emerging cyclic universe with departures from time to time into pockets of chaos.
We disconnect from reality when we become self-centered, often during the various stages of our lives. When we are blessed we continue to live and learn.
Issues of ideology, rational thought, economics, politics, religion, history and science become insignificant in comparison to the whelming power of Nature.
Such is life. It comes with the territory. Spirituality, Nature and Science describe the metanexus in which we live.
Maintain an even strain,
an old lamplighter
Ref: Episcopal “Catechism of Creation”
Ideas, feedback and comments, as always, hugely welcomed.
A very suitable set of pictures for today; Easter Sunday.
Thanks to Bob Derham for sending them to me.
From Jean and me and all our animals, our Easter wishes for peace to you all.
Now we are eight!
Dhalia was clearly close to death when Jean and I took her to our vet, Dr. Codd, earlier this morning.
Indeed, she was probably dead when Dr. Codd administered the euthanasia injection. It was 8:45 am.
While there is more I want to write about Dhalia, you’ll appreciate it if that is left for tomorrow’s post and I close this with a couple of photographs.
For those that can’t read the plaque it says, “Heaven. All the dogs that ever loved you will be waiting at the gate.“
Dhalia has taken her last walk!
A most fitting guest essay after yesterday.
The following is published with the kind permission of the author, Jeremy Nathan Marks. I have done a ‘screen grab’ of the image associated with his blog post so you can experience it as you would see and read it from The Sand County. It seemed perfect as a follow-on to yesterday’s post Life, and mortality.
The Sand County
“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” -Henry David Thoreau
My Wish for the World
If I could leave behind but one lasting accomplishment from my life it would be to have changed the hearts and minds of all those people who accept or practice cruelty towards animals.
Now there are a great many worthy causes in this world which fully deserve the attention of all those who believe in justice, in fairness, and in mercy. But I also know that each of us -perhaps- has a cause that stands above and beyond all of the other noble concerns that we know exist. For me this cause is the humane treatment of animals.
And when I say animals I mean ALL animals. Permit me to explain.
My wife and I have two dogs. Both are mutts and both were adopted through the Animal Rescue Foundation of Ontario (ARF). I have blogged about ARF before and can only offer the highest praise for the organization. Courtesy of ARF, we have been provided with free dog training classes which have proved to be an invaluable resource in learning about dog behaviour. Better yet, the dog trainer we have worked with has made herself available for our questions outside of class. Whenever we have encountered a behavioural challenge that we have not understood or have been unsure of a proper method of approach, this trainer has been very obliging. Importantly, she believes in positive reinforcement and does not believe in the use of pain, dominance, or stress as a means of conditioning dogs. For my wife and me, this fits in with our moral beliefs and our ethics.
Our eldest dog, who just turned one year old, is a 60 lbs. shepherd mix who has a “leash anxiety,” if I may call it that. When we are out on a walk and she sees another dog she becomes quite agitated and will bark loudly and lunge at the other dog. This has puzzled us because our dog loves to play with others and is frequently socialized. We grew increasingly concerned because our use of treats and positive reinforcement was not working. And because our dog is a large shepherd, we both have worried that she might develop a reputation and become a source of fear or suspicion by other people in our neighbourhood. In due course, we contacted our trainer for advice.
She suggested that rather than putting our dog in a stressful situation by repeatedly walking her past other dogs (and trying to control her behaviour when she becomes agitated) we should take her out of the situation instead. So, when we see another dog approaching we turn around and walk in a different direction, all the while rewarding our dog with treats and telling her she is a good girl. We have recently started doing so and the improvements are showing.
So, let us fast forward to today. . .
This afternoon we took both of our dogs on a 20 km hike along the Thames River. The trail is like so many other trails; it forms a narrow path through the woods which makes passing other trail goers challenging at points. If another dog were to come toward us this narrowness would pose something of a challenge because we cannot turn around (and head home). Also, because the trail runs through the woods, there aren’t often places to step aside and let other dogs pass by without our oldest detecting them.
Inevitably we encountered another dog. We were approached by a small dog that was off leash (which is posted as unlawful, actually). We heard the dog before we saw it and prepared ourselves for some nervousness on the part of our oldest. When the dog approach some barking ensued and I tried to move our dog, as best I could, off the trail to let the family that was approaching us pass by with their dog. When we informed the family that our dog is uncomfortable around other dogs when she is leashed they did not seem to understand that we wanted them to pass by us quickly. When our eldest became excited one of the women turned to us and said that we should “knee our dog in her side to show her who is dominant.”
I was appalled.
Some woman, whom I have never met, who knows nothing about our dog or our relationship with our dog, was suggesting we use violence against her to show her who is boss. . . And this is a woman with a dog of her own!
My wife later remarked to me, as we were driving home, that she would not feel entitled to the love and affection our dogs offer us if we used violence on them in any way. I thought what she said was beautiful and captured the principle of the matter perfectly. We want our dogs to love us and to trust us. How would we have any right to their love and affection if we were to lead them to believe that -at any moment and for no apparent reason- we might use painful force on them?
Dogs do not understand why you use violence against them. They do not reason or understand cause-and-effect the same way that humans do. This is not a fault. It does not mean they are stupid or of lesser value than human beings. It does not mean they deserve to be treated with cruelty or brutality. Dogs experience violence as pain and suffering that is inflicted out of the blue. They are not only unprepared for it, but are often completely defenceless against it. How could we ever defend such an inhumane practice?
It troubles me immensely that someone, whom I do not know, could so nonchalantly counsel me to violence against my dog. Her arrogant presumption aside, this was a monstrous act. It was barbaric. Nowhere in polite society would someone get away with counseling violence against a child. . . or against someone who is weaker. Yet violence against animals, even against dogs who supposedly occupy a place closer to human hearts than most other animals, is countenanced and even endorsed. (I won’t even begin to explain why the Dog Whisperer horrifies and saddens me.)
If a young child was caught torturing animals we would all raise the alarm. The torture of animals, by a young child, is seen as an early warning sign of severe mental disturbance and has been linked to homicidal tendencies and highly violent behaviour. One of the great villains of American literature, the character Popeye from William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary is depicted as a torturer of animals in his youth.
Now I know that increasingly there are laws on the books in many nations that are designed to prevent cruelty to animals and to prosecute perpetrators. This is a positive development that I certainly applaud. But I would argue that there is something broader, more troubling in our relationship with animals that goes beyond the bounds of this current posting. It is a topic I will return to time and again at this blog.
What troubles me is how animals are frequently seen as objects if they are even seen or thought of at all. The damage that our destruction of the forests, deserts, plains, and oceans of this world does to countless species is something that has been well documented. We do this because we are interested in acquiring the resources we feel are vital to ensuring our survival. . . but often it is our comfort or our “way of life” that really is the central reason for our pursuit of these things.
There is a deep seated human arrogance which treats animals as inferior forms of life. We see them as less sophisticated because they cannot compete with us for power on this planet. We suffer from what Aldo Leopold called an “Abrahamic view” toward the land. Somewhere biblical “dominion” over nature became domination. This is tragic. And it is not necessary.
I was deeply troubled by what I experienced today and it reminded me that if I could leave behind but one lasting accomplishment it would be to somehow awaken a sense of love, of mercy, and a thirst for justice where the animal life on this planet is concerned.
Just imagine what realizing that love would really mean. By achieving a love that transcends the will to power, the will to control, and the will to domination our embrace of animals really is, after all, the achievement of that revelatory love that is at the heart of the great religions and the religious spirit. Love for animals is love for justice and mercy. It is reverence for life. And it is peace.
I think Henry Beston captures these sentiments beautifully:
“Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” -from The Outermost House, by Henry Beston (quoted from Farley Mowat’s A Whale For The Killing)
I’m sure you will join me in thanking Jeremy for writing such a beautiful and heart-felt essay.